Even as I wrote the title, I felt the irony. There isn’t one aspect of parenting that is difficult, but many. As we all know, it has been described as the most difficult and lowest paid job ever. Children arrive as infants without instructions, and from there it only gets more challenging. At the end of each year, wise parents assess how the year went, looking for pockets of growth and improvement, taking stock of what the “next thing” is for their child or children. This complex task is often made more, not less, complex because there is an element of “tag team” to it. Parents need to be on a similar, if not the same, page on the large and small issues and decisions.
As Middle School Principal at Colorado Academy, I get to spend an enormous amount of time with students between the ages of 10 and 15 and have chosen this age group as a specialty. Yet, you will rarely hear me claim I am an expert. Instead, I like to talk about tendencies, strategies, tactics, and best efforts. This is because every child and every situation is different. That said, there may be two or three perspectives that might be helpful to remember as we look forward to helping young people grow during 2020.
Perspective 1: Rounding error
Most of what we see on a day-to-day basis is “rounding error.” This is difficult to see or feel at the moment that your child has not done well on a test, acted in a way that concerns you, or made some other unfortunate misstep. Still, it is true that there are very few single moments in life that determine a child’s trajectory. Instead, it is the day-to-day support and caring correction that wins the day in the long run. Most of what happens in Middle School will be forgotten by the end of Upper School, let alone by middle age. That doesn’t mean it is not important that we parent wisely and well, only that it puts small transgressions (even some larger ones) into perspective and creates room for you (and your significant other) to step back, slow down the moment, talk together, and parent with compassion and consistency. The missteps matter little. What we learn from them, though, is priceless.
Perspective 2: Two hands on the wheel
Don’t be surprised when your child expresses frustration about a decision you have made. That probably means you are doing your job as a parent. Children have to grow up on their own, and this means making missteps. The job of the parent is to set boundaries and give support from an appropriate distance only when needed. When we are on our parenting game, we are probably setting a few limits that are resented by teenagers. This is as it should be. Parents don’t have to be authoritarian, but they should be willing to draw a boundary and stick to it, whether it involves technology, curfew, behavior with friends, or all of the above.
Perspective 3: You have time
You have more time to make the right decision and to be on the same page as parents than you think. Every once in a while, parents need to call a play at the line of scrimmage or make a decision on the fly. This is the exception to the rule, even when it feels like there is pressure to act swiftly. More often than not, you have oodles of time. You have time to say something like, “This is an important decision and one that I want to make thoughtfully with the input of others.” This does three things simultaneously. It models good decision-making by showing your child that you are going to make a thoughtful, and not a snap/emotional decision. It indicates that it will be a team decision, and therefore, is more difficult for the child to renegotiate. Finally, it provides time for the child to consider the situation independently, which is something you want them to do anyway.
Appreciate your child
Parenting is just plain hard. It doesn’t matter how wonderful your child is or how well things seem to be going. There is always parenting work to be done. When possible, stop to genuinely appreciate how wonderful your child is now and how lucky we are to have children and get to raise them. Finally, let’s wish for a bit of good fortune for ourselves and for our children. There is a lot of sweat, tears, and laughter involved in raising healthy young people. There is also more than a dash of good luck.